The Great Animorphs Re-Read #27: “The Exposed”

125341Animorphs #27: “The Exposed” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: To rescue their android friends, the Chee, the Animorphs must use a giant squid morph to get to the Chee ship deep in a trench beneath the ocean. And they must reach the ship before Visser Three does.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Again, another book that I remembered very little about. I mean…like nothing. I remember this cover, and the obvious fact that it has to do with them having to deep dive in the ocean for some reason. But since it’s a Rachel book, I knew going in that somehow things would get tense. Poor Rachel is never left off the hook as far as existential crises go.

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My general feelings towards Rachel and my own protectiveness of her! (source)

Rachel is feeling moody. Not only is she dismayed by her decreasing interest in things that she used to enjoy (like gymnastics), seeing this as further worrying proof of her enjoying battle a bit too much, but a cute guy named T.T. asks her out. And she hesitates. I mean, her current boyfriend is a hawk most of the time…Angry with herself, she turns to her one source of consistent relief: the mall. There, she runs into Cassie (shocking). As they wander, they see Erek. But something’s wrong, they’re seeing the REAL Erek, the android beneath the hologram. Knowing something is wrong, Cassie and Rachel manage to get him into a sci-fi store before he completely breaks down, losing not only the remnants of his hologram but his ability to move. Rachel calls for back up.

Jake and gorilla!Marco show up. They’re quick to claim that it’s just a very realistic gorilla suit as Marco hoists Erek up and hauls him out of the mall, onto a bus, and finally gets him back to his own home. There they discover that this is a world-wide breakdown for the Chee, all losing their holograms and ability to move. Erek and Mr. King theorize that something must have went wrong in the Pemalite ship which they hid at the bottom of the ocean a millennium or so ago. But before they deal with that, there are two Chee who weren’t able to hide themselves well. One is in a high security plant, somewhere the Animorphs will never be able to infiltrate. He will be discovered when the shift changes in 24 hours, giving the entire mission a short timeline. The other Chee was posing as a homeless person and is in an abandoned warehouse that the Chee know will be soon raided by police, some of whom are sure to be Controllers who will then get access to all Chee technology.

Quickly prioritizing things, Jake, Rachel, Marco, and Cassie head to the warehouse in various morphs, determined to get the Chee before she’s discovered. When they show up, the raid is just getting started. Rhino!Jake, elephant!Rachel, gorilla!Marco, and wolf!Cassie get to work. Things don’t go their way and they all get incredibly beaten up. Rachel is shot in the head, Cassie is paralyzed, Jake gets surrounded by cop cars. They only escape when Tobias and Ax show up, Tobias nabbing a gun and scaring the cops into hiding. Skunk!Ax cleans up the rest of them. They barely make it out, but do manage to return the Chee to the King household. From there, they begin fretting about reaching the Pemalite ship

They quickly realize that this is the most impossible mission they’ve been up against yet. None of their morphs can dive deep enough to reach the ship. Cassie says that a giant squid would be able to, but there are none in captivity. And to catch one themselves, they would need a sperm whale morph, also none in captivity. Through this all, the Animorphs have also started getting suspicious about the good luck they’ve had so far. Apparently all of the cameras were not functioning in the mall when they hauled Erek out, and there’s no word of anyone seeing them on the bus or walking around either. Defeated, they head home

At home, Rachel and her family are watching the news. They learn that just moments ago a sperm whale beached itself outside of the city. Rachel immediately calls BS on this. But she and the other Animorphs realize they have no choice but to play along with whatever force is aligning things like this. They fly to the beach. There Jake decides they will draw straws for the two will will acquire the whale. Rachel stares down Tobias until he caves and tells her which is the short straw. He then draws one himself and Rachel kicks herself for not realizing that he would do this. And knowing that Tobias is terrified of water, she feels awful for putting him in this position.

She and Cassie head down to the beach to help with the relief effort and Rachel manages to acquire the whale. Tobias swoops down to acquire it, but gets his talon stuck in its skin (a theme for him with aquatic animals, after the whole dolphin incident!). The other Animorphs have to dive bomb him in gull morph to knock him loose. Then they all morph dolphin and head out to sea.

Once they get a ways out, Tobias and Rachel morph the whale and get to work. As awesome as the morph is, they both struggle with the mental aspect of it, being so deep in the water. Just as they’re about to give up, Tobias spots the ship and Rachel spots a giant squid. She almost gets wrestled to her death fighting it, but Tobias shows up in the nick of time and finishes the job, hauling it up to the surface for everyone to acquire.

They all morph giant squid and go a-searching. Even knowing that Tobias found it once, they take a long time finding the ship again, almost running up against the two hour limit. Finally, they locate it, but they see what must be Yeerk submarines moving in quickly too.

The Pemalite ship is very accommodating, granting them entrance in their current forms and creating essentially large bubbles for their squid forms which they can move around the space in. The inside looks similar to the Andalites’ dome ship, with a large meadow full of trees, water, and what must be toys. The bridge is located in a tree, and the Animorphs are able to restore the Chee by typing in the super secret code of “6.” But suddenly the auto destruct is also turned on.

A creature calling itself the Drode steps out and explains all. He works for Crayak, and he has been the one behind all of the happenstances on this adventure. Crayak was displeased by the loss of his Howlers, so he had the Drode set up this confrontation between the Animorphs and the now arriving Yeerk forces, including Visser Three. However, per the rules, there is a way out.

Cassie quickly realizes that they need to shoot their ink and use its cover to demorph and remorph into battle morphs to better be able to fight back against the Yeerks. They do so, and the battle begins. The Animorphs, however, are losing, badly outnumbered by the Yeerks. They are only saved by the arrival of Erek who quickly reprograms the ship. It very politely informs them that it disapproves of violence, and forcibly ejects everyone while preventing them from re-engaging outside. The Animorphs make it back to shore, counting themselves lucky that Erek was able to reach them in the bare few minutes between them restoring the Chee’s functionality and the battle going poorly.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is gaining quite a bit of self-awareness, and with this self-awareness comes concern. In the very beginning of the book, she spends quite a bit of time reflecting and worrying about the fact that she is beginning to lose her interest and joy in things that held her attention before the war with the Yeerks. Like gymnastics. To a certain extent I imagine they all have to deal with this. I mean, yes, after flying, it’s hard to see vaulting in quite the same light. But Rachel knows that it’s not just that, and that she’s beginning to fall into a category that is scarily similar to addiction with regards to her anticipation and joy for battle.

Throughout this story, we see her battle with this aspect of herself, both in her own ability or inability to hold it in, and her continuing dismay at how she is viewed by the others, particularly Jake. Her moment pressuring Tobias into helping her cheat on drawing straws was a big example of this. Even she is scared of this mission and the deep depths of the ocean. But she can’t stop herself from putting herself forward and not allowing it to be left up to fate. She HAS to be the one, and she’s so single-mindedly focused on this part of it that she fails to anticipate the super obvious repercussions, that Tobias would naturally join up next. She kicks herself for it after, but it’s hard to know whether she’d have been able to hold back even if she HAD thought of it ahead of time.

The second ongoing internal struggle for her has to do with T.T. It’s not even the fact that he approaches her, it’s the fact that she hesitates. And for Rachel, who along with Marco probably, values loyalty the most of anyone in the group, this moment of hesitation is damning. This will be an ongoing struggle for them both, but here we see the particular challenges that Rachel faces. She’s still living a human life, surrounded by other humans. The challenges of balancing that with her very real feelings for a boy who is a bird the majority of the time are high. And Rachel already has a lot on her plate.

She’s also particularly disturbed by the Drode’s accusations that she is the only one of the group who might be worth sparing. He says that she’s already close to being one of them as it is, so if she ever wants to join up…I think this is taking it a bit far, but if the Drode’s goal was to take advantage of one of her major insecurities and worries about herself, he hit the bulls eye.

Our Fearless Leader: I’ve found that I have the hardest time with Jake in Rachel POV books. I really like him in all the others, but for some reason the dynamic between him and Rachel, as interesting as it is, can also lead to what I see as some of Jake’s worse moments. Here he has one good moment and one that I think is fairly bad.

He immediately catches on to Rachel using Tobias to cheat at drawing straws and pulls her aside to lecture her. This is a good moment for him, as clearly Rachel needs reminders that her actions have unintended consequences, like pulling water-fearing-Tobias into a underwater mission because he feels the need to look after Rachel. She doesn’t stop to think this through herself or realize that, alongside the bravery of volunteering, there’s also selfishness that hurts others, this time Tobias.

The other less good moment comes early when they are first discussing the ins and outs of this mission and realizing how impossible it will be (before said convenient whale beaching). Rachel says something about it being a suicide mission, since none of their morphs can dive that deep. Jake cuts her off and tells her she’s overreacting. This hurts Rachel, and, I think rightly, she suspects that had Cassie pointed the same thing out, Jake would have seen her as being sensibly cautious. Rachel takes this to mean that because she’s the “brave one,” she’s not allowed to react to terrible odds like the others. As we’ve already seen, and as will become even more apparent, Rachel is already suffering from the feeling that she can’t be vulnerable and look for support like the others. She has to be brave. ALWAYS. So Jake shutting her down here is pretty much just reinforcing an already problematic and unhealthy issue she’s got going on. Not well done, Jake.

A Hawk’s Life: Outside of his own books, it seems like Rachel books are the only ones where he gets significant action, so that’s always fun. His is a particular type of bravery here. He lets Rachel pressure him into telling her which are the short straws, but even as he makes this decision, we know that he is also deciding to go himself, an even more heroic choice given his own particular fear of water. And while they’re on the mission as whales, Tobias is the one to spot the Pemalite ship, save Rachel from the giant squid, and wrangle it to the surface. He makes a passing comment about being a master predator, and I think there might be more to it than is given in this throwaway comment. He IS a master predator. Of them all, this is unique strength from his time living day in and day out as one. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he would do the best in a hunting confrontation like this, regardless of the forms of the combatants involved.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie and Rachel have some nice friendship moments in this book. They first meet up at the mall, and it’s always fun reading about the two of them in this environment: Cassie’s cluelessness and Rachel’s loving exasperation at her. They are the ones to first manage the whole Erek situation, calling in reinforcements with Jake and Marco. Later, in the fight in the warehouse, wolf!Cassie gets shot in the back and paralyzed, and this serves as a huge motivation for elephant!Rachel who becomes particularly enraged by this. Cassie also goes down to the beach with Rachel to help the whale and serve as an excuse for Rachel’s presence when she acquires it. Upon seeing it, Rachel swears that she will kill whomever did this (at this point, it’s pretty clear that someone is setting up the pieces for this entire thing), and Cassie vows to help. No one hurts animals and uses their lives as pawns on Cassie’s watch!

The Comic Relief: Gorilla!Marco does a lot of heavy lifting (ha!) in this one, being the one tasked with hauling both Erek and the homeless Chee to safety. He also has some good lines about the ridiculousness of the Pemalite “safety protocols.”

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax doesn’t have a lot in this book. Early in the story, Rachel internally comments that she’s glad Ax isn’t around when they come up to the warehouse and see the stark poverty and awfulness of it all, saying she doesn’t want to explain it to him. But then he does show up and uses his skunk morph to devastating effect, essentially bailing them all out of the entire disastrous affair. There are also some comparisons to the Andalite Dome Ship with the Pemalites’ ship that is full of meadows, streams, and toys. Though Ax scoffs at the fact that they have their bridge in a tree.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Rachel first morphs the whale, she does so in a very bizarre manner, getting huge but not really changing out of human form. This results in Jake getting stuck in her hair and Marco making some pretty disgusting comments about the size of her pores. Not a mental image I needed, thanks.

Couples Watch!: The T.T. things makes some waves for our favorite couple, outside of just messing with Rachel’s head. In a moment of thoughtlessness, while she and Tobias are searching around as whales, Rachel blurts out that she was asked out. Tobias, like a fool, tries to play it cool and asks when the date is. Rachel then gets all huffy about how she turned him down. And Tobias, like an even BIGGER fool, asks why. Really, Tobias. Get it together. You know why and fishing around like this is never a good idea, especially not with a girl like Rachel who is so frank and upfront about things. He kind of just makes the whole thing even harder on her. But! I will forgive him for his bit of silliness for the huge gesture of his accompanying her on the whale adventure. For the very last lines of the book, we get this:

He really was cute. And so normal. So not Tobias.
He had almost certainly never eaten a mouse. On the other hand, he’d never morphed a sperm whale and gone to the bottom of the ocean while his brain was reeling with barely suppressed terror, just so he could look out for me.
“I’m gonna go get some wings and come on up there. Keep an eye out for me.”
<I always will,> he said.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl:  Visser Three shows up at the underwater Pemalite ship and straight up makes a villain speech.  He literally opens with the lines “So. We meet again. For the last time!” You can’t get more classic villain than that! He then proceeds to morph a terrifying monster and do his usual.

The Drode is the interesting villain of this piece, calling himself a “wildcard.” The Animorphs quickly connect him to Crayak, and he doesn’t bother hiding it. He says that Crayak is pretty upset about his Howlers being ruined, so he sent the Drode. There are a lot of references to the last book, particularly Crayak’s particular hatred of Jake, and it seems like the Drode has similar almost all-powerful abilities, able to put all the piece in place for this showdown. The Drode also seriously messes with Rachel’s mind by saying that, unlike the others, she might be worth while as she’s closer to “their kind of people.” In the end, he leaves with this parting shot:

“If you ever find yourself desperate, Rachel. At an end. In need. Remember this: Your cousin’s life is your passport to salvation in the arms of Crayak.”

DUN DUN DUN.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Two things, the scene when they first come upon the beached whale is super sad. Lots of depressing descriptions of it dying from its own weight, and the hopelessness of all the help that people are trying to do with buckets and such. This works out in the end, as the Drode has to save it since the whale is just over the boundary as a “sentient species” so it’s against Crayak/Ellimist rules to let it die. The other bit is just the general sadness that surrounds the remainders of the Pemalites and their fate. There are a lot of jokes about how simply the “defenses” of the ship are (their singled digit security code and such), but Cassie points out that they were a hopeful species. Rachel brings it down again by saying that’s why they no longer exist. Grim stuff.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It’s not so much a terrible plan, but the fact that the battle in the abandoned warehouse goes so poorly for them is a bit hard to believe. I mean, they regularly go up against massive aliens covered in blades, other aliens shooting laser guns, and a guy who can morph into all kinds of crazy killing machines. And yet somehow a bunch of regular cops pretty much cripple them? I  mean, I get that the book needed another big action scene, but I dunno, maybe have a bunch of Controllers show up wanting to get the Chee, too, or something. Erek says it best:

“No offense,” Erek said, “but how on Earth have you people managed to avoid getting caught for this long?”

Favorite Quote:

Another example of the great hamming it up that Visser Three had in this book:

The Pemalite ship carefully, politely, regretfully, packed the Yeerks, including a furiously enraged Visser Three, back into their modified Bug fighters.
<I’ll kill you all! I’ll take this ship apart, piece by piece! I’ll be back and nothing will stop me! You’ll die, all of you, Andalite and . . . and whoever runs this ship, I’ll kill you all!> Visser Three said. Repeatedly.
<We are so sorry you had a bad time,> the ship said. <Perhaps we can meet again someday and enjoy some pleasant activities together.>

And the always needed Rachel/Marco snark:

<0h, man, if we could take this technology, we could open a water park that would totally rule the world of water parks,> Marco said.
<Yeah, that was my first thought, too,> I said. <Water park dominance.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change to the scorecard! This whole ordeal was brought about in the bigger Crayak villain arc, so yeah, while they kept the Chee and the Pemalites out of the Yeerks’ hands, they didn’t really strike a blow to them either. The lines remain the same!

Rating: I actually really enjoyed this one. Rachel has a good internal arc with her fears of her growing addiction to violence and also her concerns about her relationship with Tobias. The adventure was fun and the stakes nice and high. The fact that they get stomped so thoroughly in the abandoned warehouse was a bit much, but the entire undersea adventure was great. The descriptions of being so deep and the fears this would inspire were particularly good. The Drode was also an interesting new player, and I enjoyed the fact that this story was so closely tied to the events of the last book. It’s always nice to feel like we’re reading a series in a necessary order, rather than just a bunch of standalone adventures.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “The Broken Girls”

35533431Book: “The Broken Girls” by Simone St. James

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley

Book Description: The “clever and wonderfully chilling” (Fiona Barton) suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare…

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . . 

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . .

Review: First I want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

I have a deep appreciation for an unsettling Gothic horror story, and while the genre is a bit less common these days (if I’m totally wrong on this, PLEASE send me some titles! I love Gothic horror!) when I find a good one that just makes it all the more special. So when you take a historical fiction that has a boarding school setting AND throw in a restless ghost to boot, I am going to be so there and so ready. It was really just icing on the cake that “The Broken Girls” by Simone St. James not only had these plot points, but also a modern day thriller with a body found in a well and a woman who can’t let go of her sister’s murder. Fun fact: I was lucky enough to have my initial review selected as the official LibraryReads.org blurb for the book. Not to toot my own horn or anything. But the reason I was so inspired in my initial review was because this book really took me in and creeped me out for lots of reasons.

The dual narratives of 1950s and 2010s each give us pieces to a puzzle that is rooted in the mistreatment and abuses of women. Idlewood  School was an all too common place where unwanted or inconvenient girls were sent to live out their adolescence, be it because they were the children of mistresses of powerful people, mentally ill, or orphans with few other places to go. They all have the similarity in that their lives are basically valued as worthless, and few, if anyone,would miss them if they were to disappear. Which one girl does. The modern story is of Fiona, a reporter whose older sister was murdered near the property in the 1990s, and who still harbors an obsession about why this happened and it could have been prevented. And always settled above both is the ever present legend of Mary Hand, a teenage girl who died on the property shortly after giving bitrh to an illegitimate child whose body ended up in the garden. While all of the victims in this story are painted in broad brush strokes by those who live to tell the tales, be it a missing girl, a murdered girl, or a ghost girl, as the story progresses you learn so much about them, giving them more depth and showing a number of tragedies that you can’t disconnect yourself from. I was more interested in the Fiona storyline as she digs deep into the history of Idlewood and tries to find some answers to give herself peace, but I did like going back to the 1950s and seeing the group of friends of Kate, Sonia, Cece, and Roberta. The way that St.James ties it all together is worth it in the end, and I’m being deliberately vague because i think that you have to go in without any hints to really enjoy it.

I also really liked the supernatural and gothic aspects! I mean, come on! A boarding school in the middle of the Vermont Countryside? May as well be the moors! You get the sense of isolation and foreboding whenever the school and it’s grounds are described, and I could totally see why it could get lost in the wilderness even tough everyone knows that it is out there. St. James did a great job of crafting the perfect ghost story to take place there as well, harkening back to books like “The Woman in Black” and “The Haunting of Hill House” and creating a genuine tragedy that sets off a deeply creepy and fear inducing haunting. It’s also important to note that even the haunting has it’s secrets, and that while there are truths to the legend, like I would imagine most ghost stories and their origins, things aren’t always what they seem, and St. James really makes the reader feel like there is something realistic at the heart of it, a realism that keeps to the themes of gender discrimination and misogyny.

“The Broken Girls” is a dark and poignant novel that fans of Gothic horror really ought to check out. Not only does it effectively address still all too relevant themes of our culture,  I was definitely side eyeing every bump in the night right after finishing it.

Rating 8: A haunting gothic tale that brings up relevant societal issues, “The Broken Girls” is an effective and chilling mystery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Broken Girls” is included on the Goodreads lists “Historical Mystery 2018”, and “Most Anticipated Mysteries 2018”.

Find “The Broken Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Your One & Only”

33413958Book: “Your One & Only” by Adrianne Finlay

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Bookish First

Book Description: Jack is a walking fossil. The only human among a sea of clones. It’s been hundreds of years since humanity died off in the slow plague, leaving the clones behind to carry on human existence. Over time they’ve perfected their genes, moving further away from the imperfections of humanity. But if they really are perfect, why did they create Jack?

While Jack longs for acceptance, Althea-310 struggles with the feeling that she’s different from her sisters. Her fascination with Jack doesn’t help. As Althea and Jack’s connection grows stronger, so does the threat to their lives. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?

Review: There have been a few YA clone books released over the last five years or so to varying degrees of success. Somehow I’ve not read any of them, even though the concept of clones has always intrigued me.

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I liked “The Island,” I don’t care what you say!! (source)

So I was excited when I received “Your One & Only” from Bookish First, a story set sometime in the future in a city populated only by clones. Althea310, one of 9 varieties of clones, is shocked and disturbed when her teacher introduces a new class member, a boy named Jack who is strange and frightening. He’s not a clone, but instead a member of an extinct species: humans.

Jack’s introduction doesn’t go well, with several of the other clone groups reacting with fear, suspicion, and even anger. The story jumps forward in time a few years at a time, and at every point, we see the stark divide between Jack, the sole human in this insular world, and the clones that have created him and people it. The clones exist in an orderly system comprised of “generations” for each of the 9 prototypes, with 10 clones in each group. These groups, like the Altheas that Althea310 is a part of, are able to commune with each other, sharing thoughts and feelings through some sort of telephatic connection. To them, Jack’s inability to commune and the fact that his doesn’t have 9 other brothers makes him seem terribly alone and, in a way, unreal, like a chair or piece of equipment. They feel nothing from him, so how can he himself feel anything?

The creative and detailed world-building was one of the strongest aspects of this book. The world of the clones is incredibly well thought out, with their society structured around their system of orderly reproduction (via growth of new clones), life (during which each of the clone types possess a unique talent, like aptitude towards science or leadership), and death. Their only fear is falling out of alignment with their fellow clones, an unclear process but one which ultimately results in the clone needing to be exterminated as they are seen as no longer functional.

Throughout the story, we are given increasing glimpses into the history of this society. What exactly happened to the rest of the world? Who were the founders who served as the source DNA for these 9 clone types and what was their goal with creating them? We also begin to see that something isn’t quite right with the clones and the way their lives, seemingly so peaceful and orderly, are playing out.

With the story alternating between Jack and Althea310, we begin peeling back this world. Jack’s story is heartbreaking to the extreme. He is essentially an experiment that is being conducted by the clones, and his life is one of isolation, loneliness, and the feeling that he can never belong in this world. Through his eyes, we see the great degree of difference that exists between him, a “natural” human, and the clones. The best example come in the form of his love for music and playing the guitar. To the clones, this “music” is jarring noise and they can’t comprehend of his reasons for doing it.

Althea310, on the other hand, gives us a closer look into what it means to be a clone, how the communing works, and her own views on her society, especially once she begins to question things when more exposed to Jack and his differences.

The story does an excellent job of exploring large subjects, like empathy, family, and what it takes to be “human.” A tender love story is laid out next to a building sense of horror and dread as the story picks up speed towards the end heading towards what must be a catastrophic collision of views. When the curtain is finally fully pulled back, what is left is both tragic and horrific. But, for all of this, the story is one of hope and resilience.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a short, quick read but manages to pack in tons of world-building and two solid lead characters, all while creating a suspenseful plot and exploring complicated aspects of humanity. If you enjoy science fiction and dystopian fiction, definitely give “Your One & Only” a go!

Rating 8: Jam packed with heart, you’ll be left thinking about this book for many days after!

“Your One & Only” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Best Sci-Fi/Futuristic Romance” and “Genetics in Science Fiction.”

Find “Your One & Only” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields”

28109909Book: “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, Babs Tarr (Ill.), Rob Hayes (Ill.), Eleonora Carlini (Ill.), Moritat (Ill.), and Ming Doyle (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Batgirl’s about to lose the greatest weapon in her arsenal…because her mind is failing her! Are her ragtag group of allies ready to pick up the slack? And while Batgirl is down, it’s Black Canary to the rescue to discover the identity of a malevolent mastermind menacing Burnside!

Review: The reboot of Batgirl that happened during The New 52 tweaked the Barbara Gordon that had less dark doom and gloom angst, and more intrepid spunky quirkiness. But when Rebirth was announced, that meant that this reboot, too, was coming to an end, and that the character was going to move on. So now I come to the end of Batgirl’s time in the New 52, with “Batgirl: Mindfields”.

I liked the emphasis on team work and female friendship in this collection, as Barbara has to bring more excellent ladies to her team as her mind starts playing tricks on her, all because of a super villain named Fugue. She starts having memories that may or may not be real, and Frankie, Black Canary, and newcomers Spoiler and Bluebird make it their mission to help Barbara figure out who the mysterious Fugue is. I am always going to be happy to see Dinah Lance pop up, and while it took me a little while to get on board with Spoiler and Bluebird I eventually found them to be fun superheroes that I would like to see more of down the line. But the supporting character that really gets time to shine in this arc is Frankie, Barbara’s techie roommate who brings not only a great new character to the scene, but also some always welcome diversity. It was fun seeing her start out as a roommate and friend, and watching her turn into a much appreciated and needed ally. Frankie and Babs have a realistic and imperfect friendship, but they always have each other’s backs and will always be there for each other.

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Just look at the power of friendship! (source)

But even though I liked those aspects of this collection, I will admit that for me this was the weakest of the series. While it had some interesting elements of gaslighting and memory manipulation, I found myself barely invested in the Fugue storyline, and was kind of disappointed that ultimately, Batgirl herself had very little to do. Yes, I do like the power of female friendship, and yes, I liked the ladies that Barbara has brought into circle of friends and allies, but as I read it I felt that Batgirl herself had the smallest role yet in a series that is supposed to be about her at the forefront. Had this reboot of Batgirl gone on for more than three issues I probably would have been just fine with the spotlight being shared as much as it was. But this was basically a third of the Batgirl of Burnside series that didn’t feel like a Batgirl story, but a Birds of Prey story (don’t worry, I will be going back to that series soon!). It also felt like Stewart and Fletcher were trying to make a very special finale by bringing back almost all of the antagonists that we saw through the run, to end in a Battle Royale of them vs Batgirl’s Team. But it didn’t feel as satisfying as it could have specifically because a few of them were fighting superheroines that they wouldn’t have any beef with! What is the pay off of having Yuki and Yuri, the cosplaying villains from earlier in the series, fighting with SPOILER, who just showed up? That isn’t satisfying to me, it feels like padding out the plot.

Also, we barely saw any Luke Fox in this. If you are going to make a huge thing of Barbara choosing Luke over Dick Grayson (I’m still a bit sore about that. I really like Luke and he and Barbara are perfectly fine together, but Babs and Dick is one of my OTPs in the DC Universe), you had better make her relationship with Luke something more than a couple of after thought moments that feel more like ‘oh yeah she’s with Luke, they should probably hang out’. I’m not saying that Batgirl needs a man, nor that a relationship with a man should be a HUGE component to this arc, but why the whole song and dance of her picking him if it’s just left off page?

I think that the ultimate weakness of the Batgirl of Burnside arc was that it was trying a bit too hard to be DC’s answer to “Ms. Marvel” when it should have been trying to be it’s own thing. “Ms. Marvel” works because Kamala Khan was a brand new character that had room to grow and evolve without any expectations or constraints on her, so she could be the spunky young adult with relatable personal problems while still feeling genuine. When you try to apply this model to Barbara Gordon, who has been through so much already, it might feel a little odd to see her fighting manic cosplayers or taking selfies for social media clicks. I do like that DC is trying to reach out to new audience members, and I think that Batgirl is a great way to do that. But I also think that sometimes they tried to make her something that she wasn’t, and it therefore rang false.

I am glad that Barbara got to go beyond the angst and live her life a little lighter. As “Batgirl: Mindfields” wraps up her time in Burnside, I am very interested to see what she gets to do on her own in the Rebirth Arc. I was ultimately satisfied with the series as a whole, and hope that an even better iteration can be created now that a more fun loving Batgirl has been introduced to us.

Rating 6: The weakest of the “Batgirl” series by Stewart and Fletcher, but a fitting and satisfying end before it transitions to the “Rebirth” storylines.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Ladies of DC”, and “Best of Batgirl”.

Find “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: 

Not Just Books: March 2018

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bnwu4nmy3mtmtmtbmmi00njfjltkwmmitywzhzwuwndg5m2exxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynduyotg3njg-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Netflix Series: “The Defenders”

I have a very hit and miss track record as far as watching Netflix’s Marvel shows. I loved “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” but then didn’t watch “Luke Cage” and was scared off of “Iron Fist” by the bad reviews. But as I loved “Jessica Jones” the most out of them all (take a wild guess as to what’s my next pick on this list!), I felt the need to watch this team up show before watching the second season. And I was glad I did! I know this show, too, go a weaker reception than was expected, but I quite enjoyed it. For one thing, I think I felt better about having not felt like I had to spend hours watching every single series leading up to it. And as far as the story goes, I had no problem figuring out what was going on without having watched two of the series. Daredevil and Jessica Jones were by far the best part of this show as well, so I feel like I made the right decisions there. And I did love the outright mocking of Iron Fist that went down in this show. If anything, it definitely got me excited for Daredevil season 3 whenever that comes out!

mv5bmtkxmdk5ntq3mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzg3odu3ndm-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Netflix Series: “Jessica Jones” season 2

No one is surprised! I mean, I watched a whole other series in prep for this thing, so obviously it was going to make its way on this list unless it somehow bombed, which it did not. Krysten Ritter is definitely the strongest part of this series. She is pitch perfect as Jessica and manages to sell even the weaker moments of this season’s run. While I don’t think it reached the highs of the first season (for one, how do you top David Tennant’s terrifying Kilgrave??), it also managed to pull off the dreaded “origin story” superhero arc. There were a couple familiar faces popping in here and there, but at the heart, this is always Jessica’s story. It covers a lot of ground on some familiar topics (trauma and recovery from trauma) and new one ground with regards to family and memory. If you enjoyed the first season, I think this one is well worth checking out!

1200px-minnesota_united_fc_28mls29_primary_logo-svgSports: Minnesota United Soccer

Proof that I went outside last month!! So both my husband and Kate’s have been huge soccer fans for forever and have been buying season tickets together to our local soccer club for about as long. I enjoy sports more than Kate, so I’ve been tagging along for the last several years as well. Our team just moved up to the national level last year (let’s not talk about how well we did…), so this is the second year on the “big stage” as it were. This month’s season home opener was particularly fun as it was the first beautiful sunny day in the 50s we had had and our team pulled out an exciting win! This is probably the first and last time you’ll hear about sports on this blog, but quietly, in the background, I’ll be attending every home game we have, proof that not all librarian stereotypes hold water!

Kate’s Picks

fullsize_6306_1420729530Podcast: “Last Podcast on the Left”

So maybe you’re looking for a true crime podcast that also covers supernatural happenings, aliens, and conspiracy theories. And maybe you want your hosts to be three guys who are all kinds of inappropriate, but also do IMPECCABLE research into the case that they are tackling for each episode. If so, you should check out “Last Podcast on the Left”. Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski have done episodes covering such subjects as the Aum Shinrikyo Death Cult, Ted Bundy, The Amityville Horror, and Roswell, with lots of black humor and lots of VERY thoroughly explored information. The series that hooked me was all about 90s Norwegian Black Metal and the murder of Euronymous, if only because of the hilarious but relevant tangents taken during the episodes. Expect some bad taste, but know that they take their research VERY seriously.

3dac38a0577560178dabb0c45c62e321f03cb7d8Netflix Series: “Wild Wild Country”

SPEAKING OF CULTS, who here has heard of the Rajneeshee Bioterror Attack??? Basically, in the early 1980s followers of Baghwan Rajneesh bought up some land and built a commune in the middle of nowhere Oregon. In an attempt to take over the town, one of their higher ups, Ma Anand Sheela, poisoned a number of local restaurant salad bars with straight up Salmonella in hopes that the townspeople would be too sick (or dead) to vote in the upcoming election. Hundreds were sickened and eventually the cult was run out of town. Well guess what! Netflix has a show about the group and the conflict with the town. What surprised me the most about this series was that it doesn’t just paint the Rajneesh followers as total monsters, but also examines the cultural conflict between this group and the people of the small town of Antelope, Oregon. You can see the motivations and feelings of both sides, and I came away feeling bad for a number of the followers who really felt like Rajneesh was their savior, as well as for the townspeople who were, uh, poisoned by the cultists. Deeply fascinating, and disturbing, stuff.

mv5by2iwotrkyjctymnhys00nthllthkzgetzdq1y2iwzdlmztbmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtmxodk2otu-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Netflix Series: “Everything Sucks”

As a person who hit middle school right during the mid to late 1990s (starting sixth grade in 1996), I feel a fair amount of nostalgic joy when I watch the show “Everything Sucks”. I mean, there are so many things that I completely remember and relate to when it comes to this show. My closet was filled with flannel and Doc Martens. I hung out with the geeks, but had a HUGE crush on one of the bad boy upperclassmen. And like many of the characters on this show, I was trying so, so hard to figure out who I was, and how to navigate through the awkward awfulness that was middle and high school. The real standouts are Luke (Jahi Winston), the freshman AV geek who is earnest and adorable, and Kate (Peyton Kennedy), a lonely sophomore who is slowly discovering her sexuality. Not only are the storylines filled with humor and fun, there is the undercurrent of bittersweetness (I was weeping openly during one scene with the use of the song “Rocketman”). 90s kids, check it out, but everyone else should too.

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Snow City”

34300359Book: “Snow City” by G.A. Kathryns

Publishing Info: Sycamore Sky Books, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Her name is Echo Japonica, and she lives in Snow City. But she was not always Echo, and she did not always live in Snow City. Somewhere else, she was someone else, and it was to Snow City that she fled in order to escape a place and a self that had at last become intolerable.
For Snow City is a dream — Echo’s dream — of a better place, an idealized place, a place of both anonymity and fulfillment. It is, for Echo, a haven of peace, a refuge, a sanctuary.
But Snow City remains, nonetheless, a dream, and dreams, being such fragile things, can so easily shade into nightmare…

Review: I hadn’t heard of this book until I was contacted by the publisher about reviewing it here on the blog. But given the general whimsy of the description, especially the focus on dreams, it sounded like a read that I’d quite enjoy! And, for the most part, I did!

Echo Japonica is enjoying her life. It’s quiet, peaceful, full of music as she play she guitar five days a week at a local coffee shop. She lives in Snow City, a place of her own imaginings, and one free of the violence and conflict that plagued the world she escaped from. Her memories only travel back the few months that she has been living in this conflict-free environment. Things change, however, when she runs into Charity, and discovers that she is a ghost, and now is lost and alone in the seeming utopia that is Snow City. After taking the  young girl in, Echo begins to see changes in her peaceful city, a darkness seeping up and threatening to overtake the life she’s been building for herself and now Charity.

I was very intrigued by entire concept of this story. Echo has created her own world, and thus everything in it is a direct response to what she struggled with in “reality.” But even if it is her own created world, the story takes quite the turn when she is forced to realize that even here she cannot control the actions of others nor should she take responsibility for their own choices. Echo’s journey is not only one of self-acceptance, coming to grips with her own influence, or that thereof, on others, but also on creating healthy relationships and boundaries with those around her. Those who may seem to easily fit on one box may surprise you. And those you care about may do things that you wouldn’t necessarily do yourself, potentially to their own detriment. I also enjoyed the relationship that was built up between Echo and Charity. It was a sweet mother/daughter bond that highlights the unique strengths of chosen families.

I was, however, a bit put off my the style of writing. For one thing, while I appreciate lyrical and poetic writing in some instances, books that are focused too much on the philosophical aspects of life, are never really my cup of tea. Further, Echo’s way of speaking was pretty off-putting. She is written to speak in a manner similar to characters set in a Jane Austen novel. And, while I love me a good Jane Austen novel and this manner of writing in that context, I found the juxtaposition very distracting in this book. I could never quite pin down a good answer for why they were speaking this way, especially when it seems that her prior life was lived in the modern time. Frankly, it felt a little gimicky to me, and I feel like I would have enjoyed the book more had it been written using modern language.

I also had mixed feelings about the exploration of music in this book. This is completely and utterly a personal preference, however. Again, this simply isn’t my favorite topic to read about in a fantasy novel, but I completely understand that this may be much more appealing to other readers who find this aspects more appealing.

In the end, however, I still enjoyed this book for the most part. It had a strong through-line of redemption, survival, and hope. aEspecially for readers looking for books that range further on the “speculative” side of fantasy fiction, I think “Snow City” has a lot to offer and is well worth checking out!

Rating 6: A solid and unique concept that is used as a support frame to explore bigger topics such as family and self-acceptance. The style of writing, however, wasn’t for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Snow City” is a lesser know title, so isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Music in Fantasy Fiction.”

 

Kate’s Review: “Behind Her Eyes”

28965131Book: “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Why is everyone talking about the ending of Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes?

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Review: 

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(source)

I know Serena has used that gif before, but this is the only way that I can describe my reading experience of “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough. Let me tell you, I slogged, SLOGGED through this book because it was promised to be one of the great thrillers of 2017. I have friends whom I greatly love and respect who really liked this book (and my disdain in this review is only a reflection of my own tastes, guys, not yours), so I kept going even though it took me almost a WEEK just to get through the damn thing. A WEEK, YOU GUYS. I can usually put away a book in two, three days, four tops. I went on because I was promised a twist, a game changing twist. I went on because I liked “13 Minutes,” the YA book that Pinborough did that I picked up on a whim. I WENT ON. AND WHAT DID I GET?

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(source)

Okay, let me be constructive now, I just needed to rant.

“Behind Her Eyes” does have the goods to back up the fact that it’s not like other psychological female driven thrillers that we’ve seen as of late. I will one hundred percent give it that, no problem. Pinborough tells the story through a few different perspectives: the chapters from Louise’s point of view, the chapters from Adele’s point of view, and the ‘Then’ chapters about Adele and her rehab friend Rob. The story is pieced together bit by bit through all of their unreliable and partially constructed POVs. For whatever reason, I had a really hard time caring about any of it. Adele is emotionally unstable and deeply vicious in her plotting, Louise is simpering and so easily manipulated that she just pissed me off, and the Rob and Adele chapters were (seemingly) random and superfluous. They would jump and flip between narratives and none of it was enough to really keep me interested. You throw David, Adele’s husband and Louise’s love interest, into this mess through their conflicting POVs and you get a guy who is possibly a violent manipulator, and is assuredly a lying drunk. So what does anyone see in him? Why is Louise still interacting with him when 1) he’s married, 2) he’s her BOSS, and 3) he’s potentially an abusive spouse? I usually like to be able to find someone to connect with in these books when there are so many toxic players, but in this one there were none to be had.

But my biggest problem? That lays in the twist. And I am just going to throw it out there. So those of you who still want to give it a go, and by all means DO still give it a go if you want to, this is where you may wish to stop or to jump past the last paragraph this review. Here is your hearty

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(source)

So Adele and Rob, whilst they were in rehab together when Adele was younger, experimented in lucid dreaming. When Adele and Louise become ‘friends’, Adele gets Louise into lucid dreaming. So what is lucid dreaming, you ask? It’s when the dreamer knows that she/he is dreaming, and because of it may be able to control what is going on inside of the dream. But what is it in this book? It’s FULL ON ASTRAL PROJECTING. In fact, it’s astral projecting that can therein turn into possession. Because what is the big twist folks???? Adele is NOT Adele! Rob, becoming obsessed with David back in the day, taught Adele how to astral project, and then killed her, and timed it JUST right that he could SLIP HIS CONSCIOUSNESS into her body!! So ‘Adele’ is actually ‘Rob’ the WHOLE TIME. And not only that, at the VERY end Rob manipulates Louise to astral project into Adele’s body, and then kills her too and astral projects into Louise’s body, so he can be with David once more!! That’s the end, folks!! I know that twists are kind of well expected in these kinds of thrillers these days, and that the less guessable the twist, the better. But when you have a book that is seemingly based in a real world situation without any basis or foundation for magical systems, I feel like you can’t just be like ‘AND THEN MAGIC!’ and try to pass it off as an actual phenomenon to craft a twist that no one saw coming. That feels like cheating! I actively rolled my eyes and tossed this book to the foot of the bed when I was done with it. Because WHAT THE HELL? Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Because that’s how I felt.

“Behind Her Eyes” just frustrated me more than anything else. I am going to do my usual disclaimer, because as a librarian I know that just because this book isn’t for me, it doesn’t mean it’s not for anyone else. So therefore:

spikeranganathan

I didn’t enjoy “Behind Her Eyes”. Perhaps you will. But know that it gets weird, and not in a way that I found enjoyable.

Rating 2: A plot that didn’t suck me in, unlikable characters, and a ridiculous twist that completely threw all credibility out the window really turned me off this book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Behind Her Eyes” is included on the Goodreads lists “Emotion Overload”, and “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense Written by Women”.

Find “Behind Her Eyes” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Defiant Heir”

35921536Book: “The Defiant Heir” by Melissa Caruso

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

Previously reviewed: “The Tethered Mage”

Review: I was so excited when I received an ARC for this sequel! “The Tethered Mage” came out of nowhere last fall and quickly became one of my favorite reads for the year, so I was so excited to see what antics (troubles?) Amalia and Zaira would get themselves into this time. So much so, that I brought this book along with me on vacation, which was probably not the best choice since it actively distracted me from all of the “real vacationing” I was apparently supposed to be doing. It’s a lenghty book, and yet, somehow, I zipped right through it!

After the events of the last book, Amalia has proven herself a capable heir to her mother, La Contessa, and finds herself further enmeshed in the difficult and morally challenging workings of her country’s ongoing conflicts with their dangerous neighbors to the north. Zaira, too, while still straining against the restrictions of her new life, is also beginning to develop some type of feelings (oh no!) for the Falconers and Falcons around her. As the Witch Lords continue to make threatening moves against Raverra, Amalia and Zaira once again find themselves in the middle of the action. But this time they’re also in the middle of an enemy nation with only the hope of help from a Witch Lord himself who claims to be courting Amalia, but seems to also be hiding plans of his own.

This book does everything a good sequel should do. The stakes are raised in literally every aspect of the story. Plot and action? Well, not only is there a threatening volcano looming over the country ready to blow at any minute, but we get to meet the Witch Lords themselves in all of their terrifying glory! Magic? Said Witch Lords are super creepy with a complex magic system of their own that ties their powers to each other and the land they rule. Characters? Not only does Amalia’s and Zaira’s relationship remain the solid focus of character growth, but it continues to build, even when hindered by the morally challenging nature of their bond. Beyond their bond, both Amalia and Zaira have relationships of their own to deal with.

Zaira continues to struggle with vulnerability and trust, drawn to a fellow Falcon, but also lashing out in the way of a trapped animal who has been hurt too many times to recognize a kind hand being offered. I loved the exploration of Zaira’s growth. After the last book, we know the price that Zaira has paid with past experiences of becoming close to others and the tragic results that occurred. Her distrust is not only of others and their intentions, but mostly of herself. For all of this, she is not let off the hook by those around her when she takes it too far and truly hurts those who care for her. Zaira’s story was full of tenderness, heartbreak, and ultimately, hope.

For her own part, as the primary protagonist, Amalia’s own experiences and relationships are exponentially increased in this book. I still love the relationship that has been built between her and her powerful mother which is still a breath of fresh air in a book world full of orphans or evil step mothers. But in this book, the more important relationships are those driven by her relations from her father’s side, both her maternal grandmother who rules a vassal state in Raverra, as well as the line through her grandfather that reaches back to the Witch Lords themselves. Further, after deciding in the last book that she must remain single and detached in order to pursue political connections through courtship, there is an ongoing tension and struggle with her beloved Marcello. Especially when a certain charming and mysterious Witch Lord arrives on the scene and proposes a courtship, something that Amalia recognizes as incredibly powerful and useful in this time of trouble between their nations.

Amalia is not only the heart of these books, but her strong characterization is the glue that holds it all together. I keep using the word “refreshing” but it is truly how I feel about both of these books, mostly due to the way that Amalia is written. She has strong female friendships. She loves Marcello deeply, but is aware of her own role in the world and her duty. And while this pains her incredibly, she doesn’t shy away from the sacrifices that this life requires of her. Throughout this book, her realization of what it really means to be a Cornaro becomes strikingly clear. Through her, the story engages with many challenging topics, including sacrifice of individuals for the good of the whole, political compromise, and what it looks like to work within a system that is made up of people, with their own faults and agendas.

Beyond the characters, I loved the action of this book. Much of it takes place across the borer in the domain of the Witch Lords. In the last book, we only heard loosely about them and had only the horrid Ruven with his ability to control human flesh as an example of their abilities. Here, we are exposed to them all in their full power and we begin to realize the true challenge that Amalia and co. are up against. Further, (again, refreshing!) Amalia is still an unpowered young woman. Her strengths lie purely in her ability to maneuver through political situations, her bookworm-ish knowledge of magic, and her own ability to speak well and convincingly. And in a kingdom that values the ability to wield magic above all else, this skill set is even a harder one to put to use effectively.

The story doesn’t shy away from the gruesome and heartbreaking aspects of a looming war. There is a lot of death, and the Witch Lords and their power over their land is an effectively horrifying threat. I was a bit concerned with the entrance of said Witch Lord suitor, that we might be getting a love triangle. But I very much enjoyed the direction that this aspect of the story went. Again, Amalia as a character is written to handle the challenges and temptations of all of this in probably the most realistic manner I’ve read, as far as “love triangles lite” go.

I really loved the first book in this series, so it says a lot that I came away from this one knowing without a doubt that I loved it even more. Both of these books are must reads for any fan of fantasy fiction featuring strong women characters!

Now it your turn to get your hands on this brilliant sequel! I have an ARC copy up for grabs! Giveaway runs through March 27, 2018 and is open to US entrants only.

Click here to enter!

Rating 10: Absolutely brilliant! Heart-breaking and grounded, this series has given us not only one, but two new heroines to root for!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Defiant Heir ” is a new book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Fantasy World.”

Find “The Defiant Heir” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Second Evil”

260047Book: “The Second Evil (Fear Street Cheerleaders 2) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1992

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: Corky Corcoran is sure it’s just her imagination when she sees her dead sister rise from the grave. Or is it?

Corky is trying to put the nightmare of Bobbi’s death behind her—she’s back on the Shadyside cheerleading squad and has become friends with Kimmy and Debra. But everything is not back to normal for Corky—she hears horrible screams in the gym, her friend has become obsessed with the occult, and a strange young man is following her. And then the murders begin again…

Has the evil spirit from the Fear Street cemetery returned to destroy them one by one?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: As we enter the magical world of the second book of the “Fear Street: Cheerleaders” Trilogy, we are greeted by Kimmy, Debra, and Ronnie as the drive around in Kimmy’s car. These three cheerleaders are talking about friendship, boys, and their former cheer squad member Corky Corcoran. They catch us up with the deets from the last book: Corky and Bobbi Corcoran moving to Shadyside, becoming popular cheerleaders, Bobbi dying, etc. We also find out that Corky is still visiting Bobbi’s grave on a regular basis, and that Kimmy’s/Bobbi’s ex boyfriend Chip is now dating Corky (WHAT THE FUCK). They are all determined to get Corky back on the cheer team. As they drive past the cemetery Debra says that she knows that the Evil Spirit that killed Bobbi and Jennifer Daly must still be alive because she’s been reading up on this kind of thing. Then they see Corky in the cemetery, visiting Bobbi’s grave yet again. As Corky talks to her sister’s grave and tells her about the nightmares she’s been having, suddenly the ground shakes and opens up only to reveal a dead Bobbi rising up from the grave! Just as Bobbi is about to attack her, Corky wakes up next to the grave, having suffered another nightmare. She looks around thinking that she’s actually safe, but surprise! There’s a strange man in the cemetery watching her! She gets up to leave, but he starts to follow her, and when she runs he runs too!

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They’re coming to get you, Corky… (source)

Corky splats after tripping over a tombstone, but then Kimmy, Debra, and Ronnie are there in Kimmy’s car. When Corky says she was being chased, they don’t see anyone. They all load into Kimmy’s car (after Debra stares out into the dark evening a la Richmond in “The IT Crowd”. Oh, this is a new headcanon. Debra is Richmond), and take Corky home. Once settled and have shooed Corky’s brother Sean away, she asks her former squadmates why they were at the cemetery, and they tell her they were coming to see her. Corky escapes the awkwardness by going to make some cocoa, and then reminisces that she hasn’t seen much of them since she quit cheerleading. She leaves the kitchen and rejoins her friends, and they ask her to join the team again. Corky says that they USED to resent her and Bobbi, but Kimmy insists that, much like those who’ve seen military warfare together, they all bonded because of The Evil Spirit that had possessed Jennifer. Corky says she’ll think about it, but then sees that strange man outside the window!! She freaks out, but when the others go to see what’s up, he’s gone. Kimmy and ROnnie head off, but Debra stays behind, telling Corky she understands how weird this all is, and that’s she’s WAY into the occult now as a way to cope, and that the Evil Spirit is still around, she can feel it!

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A promise is a promise. (source)

Debra says that they have to trust each other now, and grabs Corky’s hand, but Corky pulls away and goes to get the kettle. But as she’s pouring the water into the mugs, she, unable to control herself, pours the boiling water all over her hand!!!!

A few days later (Maybe? It’s not totally clear) Chip goes to visit Corky to see how her hand is doing. He briefly sees his ex girlfriend Kimmy, who leaves right as he arrives, and after Corky and Chip share a hug Sean accuses them of  ‘wrestling’. This was odd to me, mainly because Sean isn’t three, he’s old enough to know what they were actually doing, but it’s played off as full seriousness? We find out that Debra has been calling Corky to check in on her, and Chip makes fun of her theory about the Evil Spirit. When Corky tells him that her burn wasn’t an accident, he’s skeptical, but does believe her about the weird man. Corky says that her therapist suggests that she rejoin the cheer squad, but she’s also going to do it because she wants to figure out if the Evil Spirit has possessed someone else. She then asks him if he’ll go with her to the cemetery so she can talk to Bobbi’s grave about her decision, and after she kisses him he’s totally down. So they go to the cemetery, and while they are by Bobbi’s grave suddenly a woman RISES OUT OF SARAH FEAR’S GRAVE. Except nah, she didn’t rise out of it, she just happened to be there taking gravestone rubbings. She says her name is Sarah Beth Plummer, and she’s a history grad student. When Corky asks if she knows anything about Sarah Fear, Sarah Beth suggests they go get a cup o Joe and talk.

So Sarah Beth tells them about the sordid past of the Fear Family (FINALLY!!!). Sarah Fear married Simon Fear’s grandson and they lived in a house on Fear Lake. Conveniently, her husband died two years after their wedding, so she inherited everything and started living the socialite life on the lake. She and her brother, niece, nephew, and a servant all died when their boat capsized, in spite of the fact it wasn’t bad weather and they were a five minute swim from shore. Corky thinks it’s the Evil Spirit, but keeps that brand of insanity to herself. There had been rumors about Sarah having an affair with the servant as well, and that their ghosts are seen walking around Fear Street. After the story is done, Chip and Corky leave. Chip comments on how strange her voice is, and Corky turns around to see Sarah Beth looking into space with a look of ‘evil’, whatever that means.

After school on Monday, Corky goes to cheer practice to rejoin  the team. The cheerleaders and their coach Miss Green are all happy to see her, though Debra says that she can feel the Evil Spirit. Corky says they’ll talk later, and joins the line hoping to learn as she goes. Unfortunately, there is horrible sound of a girl screaming, and Corky freaks out. Of course, no one else heard it. Corky decides to power through and try again, but nope, horrible screaming that only she can hear. She stops again, and notices that Debra looks pretty self satisfied as she plays with her crystal necklace. Kimmy wants to call a doctor, but Corky says she’s fine. But when the screaming starts again, she runs out of the gym…. and STRAIGHT into the mystery creeper from the cemetery!!! He grabs her, and even though she pulls away he chases her through the school in a Benny Hill-esque pursuit. He eventually catches her and tells her that he’s Jon Daly, Jennifer’s older brother, and he thinks that SHE KILLED JENNIFER. He promises to follow her and find out some proof that she’s a murderer, and just as he’s getting even more awful Chip shows up, and Jon runs off. Chip says that Jon was kicked out of school for being a violent meathead and went to military school. So that’s definitely the kind of guy you want stalking you.

That night Corky is at home babysitting Sean when Kimmy calls. She asks how Corky is feeling, and Corky says that she really did hear screams, to which Kimmy says that she could come back to practice and keep on trying to get back on the squad. Priorities, right? Corky insists that it’s the Evil Spirit, and Kimmy invites her over once she’s done babysitting Sean. Once her parents get home, she gets in her car to drive to Kimmy’s, and passes the cemetery. And she sees something VERY interesting indeed! Sarah Beth Plummer and Jon Daly are walking through the headstones!! And then Sarah starts doing a weird dance on Sarah Fear’s grave as Jon watches on intently!!! Corky zooms off in her car, because that’s too much.

So I guess we’re jumping over Corky’s visit to Kimmy’s house and we are now at school again, this time for Corky’s make up science test! As she has very teenagey thoughts about how cute her science teacher is,  he tells her he has to go pick up his car while she takes the test and she will therefore be in the room alone. I smell a set up. In the science lab there are cages of soon to be dissected frogs, a bunch of dead bugs, a cow eyeball, and a lab skeleton, and as Corky takes the test she tries to ignore the croaking. I mean, you can guess where this is going. Soon, pandemonium begins! The door slams, the blinds shudder, the frogs freak out, the dead bugs and COW EYE go FLYING through the room, and the lab skeleton seems to come to life and tries to strangle her by throwing it’s hand at her throat and grabbing on!!!

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In other words, it goes full “Evil Dead 2”. (source)

As she runs out of the room and makes her escape, she goes to find Chip, who said he’d be in the wood shop. But when she gets there, bad news. Chip is dead on the floor, and it looks like his hand was cut off by the wood saw as it’s sitting by the whirring blade. And to think, continuing the “Evil Dead 2” comparison, if they had gotten to him in time he could have gone full Ash Williams and just attached a chainsaw to his stump and helped fight the Evil Spirit! That would have FULLY redeemed Chip! But, alas, it was not to be.

After the funeral, and after Corky and Kimmy have a moment, Debra runs into Corky in the cemetery and says they have to talk. They go grab a burger and Debra continues to hammer the Evil Spirit theory. Corky would prefer to believe that Chip accidentally sawed off his hand and went into shock, but Debra isn’t buying it! So Corky admits that the science room went Sam Raimi on her, and then tells her about Sarah Beth Plummer’s cemetery dance. Debra says that she thinks she knows how to find the evil.

And then a month passes?! Corky is back at cheer practice, trying again to rejoin and hoping she won’t be spooked or harassed by some demonic entity. All goes well, and she makes it through all the routines and to the top of the pyramid with no problems. So maybe the evil is gone? So we jump forward to that evening (though my eBook sure didn’t make a note of time passing, and it went from a gym floor to Debra handing Corky a handful of candles, I was quite confused), and Corky, Kimmy, and Debra are walking through the remains of Simon Fear’s mansion in hopes of finding the location of the Evil Spirit. They have the GENIUS idea to try and raise it. As Debra starts the ceremony, SOMETHING rises from the floor! But it’s just a stray dog. Kimmy says that she’s leaving because this is stupid, so Debra and Corky are left to feed each other’s paranoia. They decide that talking to Sarah Beth and Jon may be the way to go, so they first go to Jon’s parents house. When they arrive, The Dalys inform them that Jon has been missing for two days. Gosh, this legitimately tragic. Their daughter died, and now their son is missing. I feel for the Dalys.

The next night, Debra and Corky meet at the coffee shop, knowing that Sarah Jane lives right next door. So they go to her house and Sarah Beth lets them in, for some reason. As they ask her if she’s learned anything else about Sarah Fear, she kind of balks, but says she’ll talk once she turns the stove off in the kitchen. Corky accidentally knocks some papers off a table, and as she’s picking them up she sees a number of envelopes… ADDRESSED TO SARAH FEAR! When they confront her, she tells them the truth. She herself is a member of the Fear Family! She admits that she is kind of ashamed about it, given the reputation the Fears have in Shadyside, and that she didn’t tell Corky everything she knew about Sarah Fear when they first met. They ask her about her graveyard date with Jon Daly and her weird dancing, and she says she used to know Jon back in school and he randomly called her a few weeks before their meeting. He asked her to meet him at the cemetery, and then asked her if she knew about the ‘truth’ about his sister. THEN he asked her if she believed in Evil Spirits, and her answer of studying the occult wasn’t a good enough answer for him. She told him about a dance that some cultures would do in hopes of raising the dead, and he insisted that she do it for him. And since he seemed completely out of his gourd, she just made one up, and they parted ways. THEN she tells them more about Sarah Fear. Apparently, after her husband died, she was very sad. Then in 1899 she also fell ill, and was on the brink of death. But then she miraculously recovered, but wasn’t really the same person afterwards, acting strange and becoming a bitch and a party animal who would hold seances and weird occult happenings at her house. Sometimes people died at these parties. The day that she and her entourage went on the boat, the weather was fine, until a random gale force wind knocked them all into the water where they died… And when their bodies were recovered, they looked like they had BOILED TO DEATH!! LIKE BOBBI! AND CORKY’S ARM!

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It’s all kind of coming together! (source)

Debra and Corky are spooked and not certain that Sarah Beth told them everything, but it sure sounds like Sarah Fear was possessed back in the day. When Corky gets home, Kimmy calls her to tell her that Jon Daly’s body was just pulled out of Fear Lake.

Good news! Corky is about to perform during an actual game!!! Kimmy knows she can do it! It goes well for the most part, with their cheers tight and their judgments of the other cheer squad nice and catty. During the grand finale, Corky starts to climb to the top of the pyramid, but when she reaches the top, things start to get spinny and noisy! Corky then realizes that Sarah Jane Plummer is there! WHY WOULD SHE BE THERE!? As she tries to dismount, after Kimmy nods at her to jump, Kimmy doesn’t catch her, and Corky falls to the floor. As she drifts in and out of consciousness, she hears Kimmy say that something held her arms down! Just like what happened to Bobbi! Corky eventually wakes up in the hospital, her arm in a huge cumbersome cast.

She and her parents arrive home. Sean is happy that she’s okay, and Corky decides to take a bath before she goes to bed. As the room gets really steamy, Corky suddenly sees that Kimmy is there! And surprise surprise, THE EVIL SPIRIT HAS BEEN INSIDE KIMMY ALL ALONG!!!! Ever since that night at the cemetery way back in the “The First Evil” when it left Jennifer’s body! Talk about biding one’s time. The Evil Spirit then says that it kills the enemies of it’s hosts, and that is why it killed Chip, for the way he hurt Kimmy when he dumped her for Bobbi. Jon was getting too close to the truth (what good would that do him, though?). And now it’s here to kill Corky for trying to destroy it! It then grabs Corky and shoves her face into the bath water, trying to drown her. While at first Corky thinks that she is just going to resign herself to her fate, she then remembers Sean! She can’t leave her little brother alone! Okay? It’s not like Stine did much to establish a close relationship to Sean in this book or the previous one, so to make him the sole motivation to stay alive outside of her parents and friends is beyond me. Whatever, because this gives her the strength to turn the tables and shove ‘Kimmy’s’ head into the water now. A hot steam cloud rises up as the Evil Spirit struggles, therein showing just how it uses heat to kill, but then a green liquid a la “The Exorcist” starts to seep out of Kimmy’s mouth and into the water, and gets sucked down the drain. Once all of it is gone, the water too, Kimmy wakes up from her trance, her last memories being from the night in the cemetery.

The next morning, Corky wakes up feeling fresh and sassy, ready to take on the world now that she’s drowned The Evil Spirit! She goes to the kitchen to get some breakfast, and finds an envelope addressed to her. She opens it up and finds a note that says “IT CAN’T BE DROWNED”. The End.

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Did Sarah Beth send the note? Why was she at the basketball game? Will Debra have memorized the entire Mayhem lyrics catalog by the next book? (source)

Body Count: 2. Safe travels, Chip, even though you were a total tool. Jon you were a bit random but I really feel awful for the Daly family at this point.

Romance Rating: 2. So Chip remains a total creep (may he rest in peace), who has moved on from his dead sort of girlfriend (whom he was sort of cheating on Kimmy with) to her younger sister. The only reason he doesn’t get lower is because I save that for the legitimately abusive guys but MAN, this is sleazy.

Bonkers Rating: A solid 9! From dead vermin levitating to a lab skeleton trying to strangle Corky to Chip’s hand getting sawed off to the return of The Evil Spirit and all the baggage it brings, this was pretty nuts!

Fear Street Relevance: 10. Seeing as we got a freakin’ Ancestry.com type history of the Fear Family and an oral history of Fear Street and the surrounding area AND an actual member of the Fear Family making an appearance, I say that gets it to perfection. Cheerleaders Trilogy KILLING IT on keeping it relevant.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: Well, I have to say that it was the single out of place sentence after another scene ended, scene change line notation and all, that just said:

“HERE IS THE EVIL!”

Because huh? I think that it MAY have been a formatting error from print book to eBook, but it was HILARIOUSLY RIDICULOUS.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Corky’s little brother Sean bragging about his Nintendo having the super cool “Mega Man 2” was the ultimate retro throwback for THIS Nintendo fan. Though given that Sean seemed to be using this as bragging rights when in 1992 there had already been a couple more “Mega Man” Games post 2, he wasn’t as smooth as he thought he was.

Best Quote:

“Hey you! Yeah, you! Are you ready? Our team is tough and our team is steady! We’re on our way to the top and we’ll never stop! The Tigers are on the hunt. Hear them growl, hear them roar! You’d better hold your ears ’cause the Tigers will roar all over, all over you!”

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The other teams are just going to run and hide when they hear THAT cheer…. (source)

Conclusion: “The Second Evil” was stellar and entertaining as hell! It did a good job of raising the stakes and it really has me excited for the final book in the “Cheerleaders” Trilogy! I got so excited I definitely overdid it on the GIFs! Up next is “The Third Evil”! 

Movie Review: “A Wrinkle In Time”

As much as we like books, sometimes we like to check out movies as well. Today we reviewed “A Wrinkle In Time.” We discuss the book itself, the differences between the book and the movie, how perfect Oprah Winfrey is as Mrs. Which, the excellent casting, and the beauty that is Chris Pine. Plus, bloopers, because it’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these and we’re a bit rusty. Stay tuned at the end for our book recommendations if you liked this movie (titles also posted below).

Serena’s Recommendations:

25350

“Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis

 

 

119322“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

 

 

6405131“A Wind in the Door” by Madeline L’Engel

Kate’s Recommendations:

819975“A Swiftly Tilting Planet” by Madeline L’Engel

 

 

3217221The “Locke and Key” Series by Joe Hill